CoMo Commentary: Hack Journalism from the Home of the Missouri Method

KOMU ran this story about connecting a rock show flyer to this past weekend’s Brookside Apartment complex fire near downtown. The rock show in question happened over three weeks ago at the Blue Note and featured local bands Enemy Airship and Believers plus Daryle Bascom’s Videology. The poster in-question was printed by our own Ben Chlapek, an accomplished poster maker here in town.

The disappointing part of the story is that KOMU reported that the poster was being considered in the Fire Marshal’s investigation, insinuating that Ben and the other artists involved in the show were somehow at fault for the fire. Sure, KOMU didn’t directly say that Ben et al. were responsible for the incident, but their irresponsible reporting is going a long way toward dragging the artists’ good names through the mud.

The damage was done in two ways. One problem lies in how KOMU reported the story in the first place, leaving the audience with very little context to see the full picture. The second issue arises when they post these kinds of stories on Facebook and allow the uninformed to run wild with hyperbole and sensationalism.

KOMU reported only part of the story, leaving assumptions to be drawn by their audience. There’s the implication that the drawing is of the Brookside Apartment complex. However, there is no identifier aside from the fact that the building on the poster LOOKS LIKE EVERY OTHER APARTMENT COMPLEX IN COMO. It says “Brookside” nowhere, nor does the image include street names “Walnut” and “College”, where the fire took place.

There is little attempt by KOMU to present Ben as anything more than an “artist” or band member. Keeping him faceless allows the audience to make all sorts of judgments on his character (depending on their views of artists). Obviously, I know Ben and have some idea as to how much he cares for this community. Aside from Ben’s released statement, KOMU did very little to paint an accurate picture of who Ben is. Doing so would have left them with virtually no story.

A little Googling would have revealed a pattern of flaming buildings in Ben’s work. Said work is not only engaging but making some noise in the poster art world. Still, flames are present in other examples of his prints. Check the two prints below. Should we also blame Ben for the end of the world in 2012 as well as the destruction of Inuit homes? The point is that there’s a pattern that suggests the show’s flyer had little-to-nothing to do with the apartment fire. He draws buildings on fire from time to time. It’s merely a coincidence that someone thought the poster portrayed Brookside.

Now, there’s the Facebook post. KOMU has made a concerted effort to engage their viewers through social media. While this sounds great to someone like me who values the community dialogue social media encourages, the combination of a lack of context and someone to monitor these discussions leads to a misinformed public jumping to conclusions, something a news organization is supposed to combat.

The above comments are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the discourse that often results in KOMU Facebook posts. Some of the most bigoted and vile statements I have ever seen in COMO happen on these threads. To be honest, these reactions are tamer than most KOMU stories. Still, people were quick to jump to the conclusion that Ben and the bands were somehow involved in the fire.

KOMU failed to present the full story as well as monitor their own discussion. I help run this blog as well as other blogs and several Facebook pages and groups. If someone posts something that stinks of libel and/or intolerance, I at least will call them out on it or even remove their comments. While I get that KOMU wants to allow their viewers the liberty of speaking their minds, this sort of “discourse” only spirals down a rabbit hole of ugliness.

The full story would have not only included Ben’s profile but a list of other avenues the fire marshal was investigating. There have been rumors of poor treatment toward laborers floating around the project. What about the many residents angered by the continued development of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods? How about the fact that it’s dry in Mid-Missouri this time of year and these sorts of things happen in new construction projects? Instead, the KOMU story only gives one possibility for the investigation. The audience is led to believe that this is the only angle officials are investigating. I find that hard to believe. Including these other possible causes would have not only provided more context but would have lessened the negative effect on the artists. Again, this would have led to a less-sensational story.

One thing KOMU did mention in their story was Ben’s official statement (emphasis mine):

As a resident of the downtown neighborhood, I am terribly saddened to hear about the fire at Brookside apartments. The poster I created is, in hindsight, an irony and coincidence which I cannot erase. Out of respect for the owners of the property and the future residents of the complex, I have taken the image off of the internet and will no longer display it in any form.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for KOMU. The station displays the image of the flyer in their original story and has posted it on Facebook (from where the above comments originated). I even have an image of the original flyer, yet have chosen not to display it here out respect for Ben’s wishes. Oh, and I’m sure you noticed the screen grab above on KOMU’s Facebook page. It seems Ben et al. should be singled-out for their artistic imagining of a building on fire, but KOMU can capitalize on the Brookside fire all they want.

What would be great is if KOMU actually covered the art and music scenes in a way that would have painted a much more balanced picture of Ben, Enemy Airship, Believers, and Videology. These components of our community are a vibrant part of what makes COMO great. I’ve mentioned and linked to Ben’s accomplishments, but what would the audience think if they knew about the label associated with Enemy Airship that often gives its music away online? Would there have been more familiarity with Believers had the news station already been reporting their debut release and all the buzz it’s creating around town and the rest of Missouri (and beyond)? Do they even know that Daryle Bascom has a long history in the music biz and that his Videology parties are among the most popular and unique of their kind? KOMU’s missing a large part of this story that would have surely painted a much more balanced picture of the situation instead of a sensationalized non-story.

That might be what’s most disappointing. KOMU is affiliated with our beloved MU Journalism School, home of the “Missouri Method.” Shouldn’t they have a higher standard to uphold?

In the end, this will all blow over. The fire marshal will quickly clear Ben and his mates of any wrong-doing. The investigation will focus on actual suspects and evidence, and the Brookside apartments will be ready a little later than expected. However, I wonder whether or not KOMU will update their story. Will they clear Ben’s name as well as everyone else involved with the show? It’s doubtful. That’s just not a story. It won’t bring in ratings. I’d love to be wrong, but I won’t keep my hopes up.


  1. The Recordkeeper says:

    KOMU needs to apologize to Ben. RiDONKulous!

  2. Kristin says:

    What really gets me is that the news report was completely irrelevant. It offered viewers no new information. All it did was communicate some half-baked insinuation and nothing else. Like I said earlier elsewhere, you can’t just throw this stuff out into the open as to say, “We’re just sayin’.” We don’t really know much about the fire, so to point this out while ignoring other avenues is especially thoughtless, given that people have nothing else to grab onto at this point.

  3. Thank you, Zac. You, Matt, Jeff, Ramon, Josh, Scott, Ryan, and Ben’s many other friends are the salt of the earth. Your support of this young man is remarkable, accurate, and welcome by many. He doesn’t have any enemies and to be put in the limelight for something he knew nothing about is disappointing, especially in light of the reputation KOMU tries to maintain through the School of Journalism. Ben is an MU grad whose art is internationally published and he is a huge supporter of downtown Columbia. He deserves better from KOMU. Many thanks to you and the folks in Columbia who have come forward to pick him up, dust him off, and help him continue with his work.

  4. Ben says:

    Are you all kidding me? Quit drawing posters where EVERY SINGLE ONE IS SOMETHING ON FIRE!! And maybe they wont think you are a closet arsonist. Grow up you children. Just because you know Ben personally doesnt mean that KOMU reported anything incorrectly. They may have insinuated poorly but have you ever watched the news before?? Quit acting like they personally attacked you. Petty bickering doesn’t help anything especially when you let your panties get bunched up like a 3rd grader who just got told they had “cooties”.

  5. Ben says:

    Not to mention that fire probably will end up costing well over a million dollars to the owner. I would investigate someone who made a drawing of the building on fire before I even looked for evidence. With his drawing style, he had this coming sooner than later.

  6. Matt Eversmann says:

    Your comments don’t even warrant a reply . . .

  7. The idea of the calendar is hilarious and at the same time genius! Most calendars would just put 2012 in there, but this have the phrase The End of The World in it!


  1. [...] I posted this over at the CoMo Collective. It’s something I’m somewhat proud of and feel this audience should read it and comment as well. It’s related to the kinds of things I support on this blog but I’m not 100% how. Any comments are welcomed. I’d love to continue this conversation with people who don’t necessarily live here and know any of the parties involved. Sorry for the non-beer post. Look for a Session piece on Friday (I hope.) [...]

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